Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Bad Faith Towers

From yesterday’s Times:

In a bid to cut costs at his star-crossed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the developer Bruce C. Ratner is pursuing plans to erect the world’s tallest prefabricated steel structure, a 34-story tower that would fulfill his obligation to start building affordable housing at the site.

The prefabricated, or modular, method he would use, which is untested at that height, could cut construction costs in half by saving time and requiring substantially fewer and cheaper workers. And the large number of buildings planned for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards — 16 in all, not including the Nets arena now under construction — could also make it economical for the company to run its own modular factory, where walls, ceilings, floors, plumbing and even bathrooms and kitchens could be installed in prefabricated steel-frame boxes.
Never let it be said that Bruce Ratner is not an avid follower of architectural trends. With this latest iteration of building at Atlantic Yards he swaps titanium for brown paper, correctly sensing that, post-recession, prefab is more palatable than starchitecture. Where once the Faustian bargain he offered Brooklynites appealed to their old school pride (a real city has its own sports team) and new Brooklyn snobbery (we could have had a Gehry before Manhattan), the new one is more pragmatic. Do you want affordable housing now, built fast and cheap, or later, when I wring a reduction in the number of promised units from the state?